The Strategic Deployment of Rights
20 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect and uplift the vulnerable. But since the Enlightenment, political combatants have also used rights belligerently--to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Examining historical and contemporary conflicts, I describe how activists sharpen rights into weapons: by naturalizing, absolutizing, universalizing, and depoliticizing them. I show how they wield rights: to camouflage ulterior motives, break rival coalitions, attack policies, and explode societies. Finally, I analyze how targets repulse the assault, often by fashioning contrary rights. Comparing key episodes in rights’ rise and contemporary ubiquity, I raise troubling new questions about a concept we thought we knew.
Keywords: human rights, persuasion, strategy, NGO
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